Many organizations adopt the “Safety First!” mantra, but what does it mean? The answer, of course, differs from one organization, person, or situation to another. If an organization’s leaders truly live the mantra, its meaning will be consistent across time, situations, and parties involved. It will also be well-documented, widely and regularly communicated, and supported by action.
In short, the “Safety First!” mantra implies that an organization has developed a safety culture. However, many fall far short of this ideal; often it is because leaders believe that adopting the mantra will spur the development of safety culture. In fact, the reverse is required; only in a culture of safety can the “Safety First!” mantra convey a coherent message or be meaningful to members of the organization.
Regardless of the decision-making model used, or how competent and conscientious a decision-maker is, making decisions involves risk. Some risks are associated with the individual or group making the decision. Others relate to the information used to make the decision. Still others are related to the way that this information is employed in the decision-making process.
Often, the realization of some risks increases the probability of realizing others; they are deeply intertwined. Fortunately, awareness of these risks and their interplay is often sufficient to mitigate them. To this end, several decision-making perils and predicaments are discussed below.
Myriad tools have been developed to aid collaboration of team members that are geographically separated. Temporally separated teams receive much less attention, despite this type of collaboration being paramount for success in many operations.
To achieve performance continuity in multi-shift operations, an effective pass-down process is required. Software is available to facilitate pass-down, but is not required for an effective process. The lowest-tech tools are often the best choices. A structured approach is the key to success – one that encourages participation, organization, and consistent execution.
A person’s first interaction with a business is often his/her experience in its parking lot. Unless an imposing edifice dominates the landscape, to be seen from afar, a person’s first impression of what it will be like to interface with a business is likely formed upon entering the parking lot. It is during this introduction to the facility and company that many expectations are formed. “It” starts in the parking lot. “It” is customer satisfaction.
Every organization wants error to be kept at a minimum. The dedication to fulfilling this desire, however, often varies according to the severity of consequences that are likely to result. Manufacturers miss delivery dates or ship faulty product; service providers fail to satisfy customers or damage their property; militaries lose battles or cause civilian casualties; all increase the cost of operations.
You probably have some sensitivity to the effects errors have on your organization and its partners. This series explores strategies, tools, and related concepts to help you effectively combat error and its effects. This is your induction; welcome to The War on Error.
Previous volumes of “Making Decisions” have alluded to voting processes, but were necessarily lacking in detail on this component of group decision-making. This volume remedies that deficiency, discussing some common voting systems in use for group decision-making. Some applications and issues that plague these systems are also considered.
Although “voting” is more often associated with political elections than decision-making, the two are perfectly compatible. An election, after all, is simply a group (constituency) voting to decide (elect) which alternative (candidate) to implement (inaugurate). Many descriptions of voting systems are given in the context of political elections; substituting key words, as shown above, often provides sufficient understanding to employ them for organizational decision-making.
“Fundamentals of Group Decision-Making” (Vol. IV) addressed structural attributes of decision-making groups. In this volume, we discuss some ways a group’s activities can be conducted. An organization may employ several different techniques, at different times, in order to optimize the decision-making process for a specific project or group.
The following selection of techniques is not comprehensive; organizations may discover others that are useful. Also, an organization may develop its own technique, often using a commonly-known technique as a foundation on which to create a unique process. The choice or development of a decision-making process must consider the positive and negative impacts – potential or realized – on decision quality, efficiency, and organizational performance factors.
In business contexts, many decisions are made by a group instead of an individual. The same is true for other types of organization as well, such as nonprofits, educational institutions, and legislative bodies. Group decision-making has its advantages and its disadvantages. There are several other considerations also relevant to group decision-making, such as selecting members, defining decision rules, and choosing or developing a process to follow.
Successful group decision-making relies on a disciplined approach that proactively addresses common pitfalls. If an organization establishes a standard that defines how it will form groups and conduct its decision-making activities, it can reap the rewards of faster, higher-quality decisions, clearer expectations, less conflict, and greater cooperation.
While the Rational Model provides a straightforward decision-making aid that is easy to understand and implement, it is not well-suited, on its own, to highly complex decisions. A large number of decision criteria may create numerous tradeoff opportunities that are not easily comparable. Likewise, disparate performance expectations of alternatives may make the “best” choice elusive. In these situations, an additional evaluation tool is needed to ensure a rational decision.
The scenario described above requires Multi-criteria Analysis (MCA). One form of MCA is Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP). In this installment of “Making Decisions,” application of AHP is explained and demonstrated via a common example – a purchasing decision to source a new production machine.
The rational model of decision-making feels familiar, intuitive, even obvious to most of us. This is true despite the fact that few of us follow a well-defined process consistently. Inconsistency in the process is reflected in poor decision quality, failure to achieve objectives, or undesired or unexpected outcomes.
Versions of the rational model are available from various sources, though many do not identify the process by this name. Ranging from four to eight steps, the description of each varying significantly, these sources offer a wide variety of perspectives on the classic sequential decision-making process. Fundamentally, however, each is simply an interpretation of the rational model of decision-making.
Given the importance of decision-making in our personal and professional lives, the topic receives shockingly little attention. The potential consequences of low-quality decisions warrant extensive courses to build critical skills, yet few of us ever receive significant instruction in decision-making during formal education, as part of on-the-job training, or from mentors. It is even under the radar of many conscientious autodidacts. The “Making Decisions” series of “The Third Degree” aims to raise the profile of this critical skillset and provide sufficient information to improve readers’ decision-making prowess.
It is helpful, when beginning to study a new topic, to familiarize oneself with some of the unique terminology that will be encountered. This installment of “Making Decisions” will serve as a glossary for reference throughout the series. It also provides a preview of the series content and a directory of published volumes.
When we see or hear a reference to advanced technologies, many of us think of modern machinery used to perform physical processes, often without human intervention. CNC machining centers, robotic work cells, automated logistics systems, drones, and autonomous vehicles often eclipse other technologies in our visions. Digital tools are often overlooked simply because many of us find it difficult to visualize their use in the physical environments we regularly inhabit.
There is an entire class of digital tools that is rising in prominence, yet currently receives little attention in mainstream discourse: augmented reality (AR). There are valid applications of AR in varied industries. Increased awareness and understanding of these applications and the potential they possess for improving safety, quality, and productivity will help organizations identify opportunities to take the next step in digital transformation, building on predecessor technologies such as digital twins and virtual reality.
Reviewing past installments of “The Third Degree” in preparation for the update post “Hindsight is 20/20; Foresight is 2020,” I realized that there had been a significant oversight. This post is aimed at correcting that oversight and filling the void I’m sure we have all felt.
In “Of Delegating and Dumping,” a compare-and-contrast exploration of the two managerial styles, I referenced “The Dumper’s Creed,” but had not presented it. Until now!
Given the amount of time people spend in meetings, organizations expend shockingly little effort to ensure that these meetings have value. Rarely is an employee – much less a volunteer – provided any formal instruction on leading or participating in meetings; most of us learn by observing the behavior of others. The low probability that those around us have been trained in optimal meeting practices renders this exercise equivalent to “the blind leading the blind.” The nature of these meetings is more likely to demonstrate the power structure of the organization than proper protocols.
Typical meetings suffer from a raft of problems that render them inefficient or ineffective. That is, they range from a moderate waste of time, while accomplishing something, to a total waste of time that accomplishes nothing. This need not be the case, however. Though an immediate overhaul may be an unrealistic expectation, incremental changes can be made to the way meetings are conducted, progressively increasing their value and developing a more efficient organization.
The origin of the spaghetti diagram – when and where it was first used or who first recognized its resemblance to a plate of pasta – is not well known. What is clear is that this simple tool can be a very powerful representation of waste in various processes. An easily-understood visual presentation often provides the impetus needed for an organization to advance its improvement efforts.
While flow charts (see Vol. II) depict logical progressions through a process, spaghetti diagrams illustrate physical progressions. The movements tracked may be made by people, materials, paperwork, or other entities. As is the case with other maps, spaghetti diagrams can be created in very simple form, with information added as improvement efforts advance.
Facility Layout or Floor Plan
Of all business maps, the facility layout, or floor plan, is one of the most universal. If an organization has a physical presence – office, storefront, factory, etc. – it should have a documented layout that is updated as changes are made.
Documented layouts are most commonly prepared for manufacturing facilities because of their large footprints and large numbers of machines housed within them. Every type of organization, however, can benefit from a properly maintained layout drawing. Readily-available CAD software and trained users makes this a relatively simple task to complete.
Since the dawn of the industrial age, manufacturers have sought ways to improve their operations. Over time, these attempts became more sophisticated, as techniques and models for the measurement of performance were developed.
Performance measurement for service industries is a much more recent development. Fortunately, much of the pioneering work in performance measurement undertaken in manufacturing industries is also applicable to service providers. However, some techniques require adaptation to the unique operating characteristics of service industries to provide the full benefit of the monitoring tools.
Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is a case in point. OEE could be used to track performance of equipment used to provide a service. It is much more informative of the core objectives of the operation, however, to use the analogous Overall Service Effectiveness (OSE). As the name implies, it provides a “big picture” view of the quality of service provided to customers.
Introduced nearly a century ago, flow charts are one of the most basic mapping tools available; they are also very useful. As such, they have become ubiquitous, though the name used may vary slightly – flow diagram, process map, etc. When packaged with a PFMEA and Control Plan, it is a Process Flow Diagram (PFD). Extensions of the original flow chart have also been developed, identified with new aliases for what is, at its core, a process flow chart.
The variations need not be a distraction; a basic flow chart can be very useful to your organization. Once a basic chart is available, it can be expanded or modified to suit your needs as you learn and gain experience. The following discussion demonstrates this progression.
An Introduction to Business Mapping
The bad news: You cannot run a business with GPS. No omniscient electronic voice will provide all the information needed, in a timely manner, to address forthcoming challenges. You will need to read a map and make navigational decisions for yourself and your organization.
The good news: A number of maps are available – different types, displaying diverse information, for various purposes – to guide managers through unfamiliar territory.
In the same way that that street maps, topographical maps, nautical charts, and aeronautical charts are each specialized for different modes of travel, business maps are most helpful when there is alignment of the type of map used and the challenge to which it is applied.
“Beware the Metrics System – Part 1” presented potential advantages of implementing a metrics system, metric classifications, and warnings of potential pitfalls. This installment will provide examples from diverse industries and recommendations for development and management of metrics systems.
Every business uses metrics to assess various aspects of its performance. Some – usually the smallest and least diversified – may focus exclusively on the most basic financial measures. Others may be found at the opposite end of the spectrum, tracking a multitude of metrics across the entire organization – finance, operations, sales & marketing, human resources, research & development, and so on. The more extensively metricated organization is not necessarily more efficiently operated or more effectively managed, however. The administration of a metrics system incurs costs that must be balanced with its utility for it to be valuable to an organization.
An efficacious metrics system can greatly facilitate an organization’s management and improvement; a misguided one can be detrimental, in numerous ways, to individuals, teams, and the entire organization. The structure of a well-designed metrics system is influenced by the nature of the organization to be monitored – product vs. service, for-profit vs. nonprofit, public vs. private, large vs. small, start-up vs. mature, etc. Organizations often choose to present their metrics systems according to popular templates – Management by Objectives (MBO), Key Performance Indicators (KPI), Objectives and Key Results (OKR), or Balanced Scorecard – but may choose to create a unique system or a hybrid. No matter what form it takes, or what name it is given, the purpose of a metrics system remains constant: to monitor and control – that is, to manage – the organization’s performance according to criteria its leaders deem relevant.
Always on the lookout for useful or clever analogies that facilitate understanding of complex systems or ideas, some discoveries are made with great pleasure and some disappoint. The law of averages demands it.
The jigsaw puzzle is no stranger to analogy-building. One example appeared earlier this year in Plant Services’ “Human Capital” column (“The Jigsaw Puzzle of Reliability,” March 2019). Unfortunately, this is one that left me underwhelmed. Perhaps space limitations precluded full development of the analogy; the author’s forthcoming book may correct this. In any case, this installment of “The Third Degree” is my attempt to redeem the venerable jigsaw puzzle analogy.
Businesses that provide great customer service can be identified by observing the behavior of their customers. Do customers patronize a business by default, or do they explore all other options first? Do customers enthusiastically recommend a business to friends, family, and colleagues? Do customers react to performance claims made by the business with deep skepticism? If patrons have genuinely positive feelings about their interactions with a service provider, it is an indicator that the company provides great customer service.
The objective of great customer service is to produce loyal customers – those that return regularly, and bring others with them, without significant additional effort or expenditure. Customer acquisition costs can become burdensome if customer retention rates are low. Improving customer service quality is a cost-effective approach to increasing customer retention (i.e. loyalty), thereby reducing customer acquisition costs.
As you celebrate the nation’s independence this week, also take time to consider on what and whom your business or career depends. Celebrate the people – employees, coworkers, customers, suppliers, and so on – that help you thrive. If you are dealing with unreasonable demands from customers or suppliers, a toxic work environment, oppressive management, or other spirit-crushing situation, I encourage you to declare your independence!
Free yourself from the unnecessary constraints that others place on you personally or professionally. I am not offering empty platitudes, nor am I suggesting it will always be easy. It can often be difficult; there may be times that the toxicity seems necessary – or at least acceptable – in order to sustain your livelihood. It is in those moments that unreasonable people have the greatest opportunity to take advantage of you. Expelling those people will allow you to focus on developing positive relationships that make your career or business more profitable and more enjoyable.
Though the transformation may be difficult or feel unnatural, the renewed vigor and peace of mind that typically result will be worth every bit of effort expended. If you would like help writing your own declaration or guidance through the transformation, contact JayWink Solutions, an independent consulting and training organization.
Happy Independence Day!
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
Companies, universities, athletes, hospitals and physicians, municipalities, and any other entity that can be compared in any way often claim to be “world-class.” Is this a quantitative or qualitative assessment? Can “world-class” be objectively determined, or is it subject to the biases inherent to the assessor? Does it mean, simply, that the entity – whatever type it may be – is “good enough?”
The first definition of world-class on Dictionary.com is “ranking among the world’s best; outstanding.” This sounds like a grand achievement and a worthy goal. Unfortunately, it is completely meaningless.
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